Monday, October 02, 2006

I Heart Israeli Religious Hippies
And Upstate New York

For Yom Kippur I did not wear a suit and tie. Instead, I dressed in all white, Israeli Religious Hippie style. I wore synthetic sandals with white socks, a white knit yarmulka, a white shirt and white double-knee work pants. Why the reinforced knees? For the hishtahhawaya (prostration), of course!

I did full on-the-floor bowing for the first time in my life this year. I never did it before because my father never did it before, but then he told me that could very well be simply because in his shul growing up only the cantor ever did it; and he wouldn't consider it an affront to family tradition if I started.

In R' Avraham ben haRMB"M's Kitāb Kifāyä al‘Ābidīn (Seifer haMaspiq le‘Ovedey H') [the Comprehensive Manual for the Worshipper of God], he talks about how many Islāmic practices — particularly spiritual practices of the Ṣūfī mystics — were preserved by them from Pre-Ħurban Judaism, when we, 'in our many sins', lost track of them. One of these practices was what he calls (as pronounced by contemporary Rambamists) hishtahhawaya (השתחוויה), full prostration (not bowing at the waist as we do it today), which he mandates for many specific times during prayer, not limited to the ‘Amida and Borkhu.

In fact, either him or his father, the Rambam, explained the description in Pirqey Avot that in the Beit Hamiqdash the people would stand crowded together but prostrate themselves with room to move to mean that they would stand in long horizontal rows with space between them, the way Muslims arrange themselves when they daven!

So anyway, for Yom Kippur I went home to my "Out Of Town" adopted hometown in Upstate New York (instead of home to my parents in Brooklyn, where I was for Rosh Hashana), and did hishtahhawaya for the first time. Unlike in other shuls I've been to on the High Holy Days, no one put down any plastic bags or newspaper to separate between their knees (or face) and the floor — probably because the entire floor of my Upstate shul was carpeted, so it didn't count as "prostration on a bare floor".

It was amazing how packed the shul was — it was almost full! I'd never seen more than maybe at most 50 people there, and usually just a bit more than a minyan (barely a minyan on weekdays, if lucky) — but during Kol Nidrey and Ma‘ariv, and Ne‘ila there were between 250 and 300 people, men and women, packed into the shul sanctuary! Now, if only they would come to shul more often...


Blogger The back of the hill said...

That prostration may very well be the 'selah' called for in certain verses.

Note: I believe 'selah' is cognate with Arabic 'saleh'.

10/03/2006 10:02 PM  
Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

*Borkhu? Not "borakhu"?

10/03/2006 11:05 PM  
Blogger Mike Miller said...

When you say "hishtahhawaya" / "full on-the-floor bowing," are you referring to:

1. kneeling on the floor, and bowing
2. kneeling on the floor and bringing your head to the ground
3. Pishut yadayim v'raglayim?

The Rav of our shul pointed out that covering the floor is only necessary for (2), and only for your head, not knees (and even then, it's not required if the floor is already covered according to some (most?) opinions).

10/04/2006 12:24 AM  
Blogger Lipman said...

Note: I believe 'selah' is cognate with Arabic 'saleh'.

As in "pray"? But that's an entirely different consonant, even if to us speakers of Western languages, it might sound related, an misconseption which is even stronger because of the usual transcription as an s and an under-dotted s, resp.

10/04/2006 4:32 AM  
Blogger Lipman said...

Steg, you might be interested in Yemenite ways and differences in hishtaHawayyo and naTilath appayim.

I'm not sure about pre-chorbm influences on post-hejra Islam. The ancient Greeks and Persians had that too, hadn't they (proskynesis), as had others.

10/04/2006 4:40 AM  
Anonymous Manna Eater said...

Do you know where I can get hold of the Avraham Ben HaRambam work you cite here? I took on the minhag of hishtahhawhatever a couple of years ago, chiefly inspired by this post.

Your "<sup>High</sup> Holy Days" is cute. What do you think of just "<sup>Holy</sup> Days"? Too abstruse?

10/04/2006 5:58 AM  
Anonymous brother esav said...

I considered doing prostration but did not.

I wore white khaki pants and a white dress shirt for Yom Kippur. But my sneakers and yarmulke were both black/blue. (And the lanyard for my house keys was bright red. Unfortunately it didn't bleach during services.)

10/04/2006 10:51 AM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


#2, although there wasn't much room between the rows of seats, so it was more like "put hands on the ground and hit forehead on backs of hands".


where would i find information on the Yemenite practices?


i've seen editions of parts of it periodically in sefarim stores, or at the YU sefarim sale. if i remember correctly when i was in israel i found it in the Hebrew University library, in a bilingual Hebrew-JudeoArabic edition.
Superscripting the "holy" seems too much like a word puzzle to me... takes too much effort to decode ;-)


maybe if we threw you off a cliff... :-P

10/04/2006 11:42 AM  
Blogger Knitter of shiny things said...

Yay for people who wear all white on Yom Kippur!

I stood out by wearing all white at Penn.

And "Israeli religious hippy" pretty much describes my entire wardrobe.

10/04/2006 3:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

At KOE people usually put something down despite davening in a carpeted room. I don't know if this was something Rabbi Halivni mandated or just something people did because they didn't know any better. Similarly, I wasn't there this year to notice if Dina Najman made any changes.

10/04/2006 7:09 PM  
Blogger Lipman said...

where would i find information on the Yemenite practices?

Ask your competent neighbourhood Teimener. You're in NYC, after all.

Maybe Google will render relevant hits, or Google groups. I remember a discussion some time ago in one of the Jewish Yemenite Yahoo groups, but I'm afraid I didn't keep the messages.

10/06/2006 2:32 AM  
Anonymous Habib of KiwiJewPundit said...

That Maimun family, loved Islam. I think he got it from Daddy. In the Mishneh Torah, Rambam codifies an obligation to wash one’s feet, as well as hands, before offering selotha, just like our friends, the ummah. The Raavad comments that he has no idea where Shekih Mussa got this idea from.

10/06/2006 10:05 AM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...



Anonymous: (do i know you in RL?)





and there's that thing about single women covering their hair...

10/08/2006 9:09 PM  
Anonymous habib of kiwijewpundit said...

Prostration is wicked cool.

Btw, I know someone who is baqi in "Teimener" practices. Contact me in RL.

10/09/2006 11:20 AM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

"wicked cool"?

Since when is Aotearoa a suburb of Boston? :-P

10/09/2006 11:51 AM  
Anonymous habib of kiwijewpundit said...

Although it's not, Wellington ("Poneke") may well be, as it’s a hilly, sea-side city full of latte-sipping lefty intellectuals.

Like Bostonnaim, we also do not pronounce "r" at the end of a syllable.

10/09/2006 12:09 PM  
Blogger Ari Kinsberg said...


a nice minhag to adopt. but as a newcomer to this tradition, be careful who is behind you as per my post at

"and there's that thing about single women covering their hair..."

and then there's thing about women covering their faces with a veil as well.

10/09/2006 11:52 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home